Letter to Co-Op Members “Explains” Firing

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Davis-food-coopEditor’s Note: On Wednesday, the Davis Food Co-op posted a letter to members and shoppers explaining the termination of General Manager Eric Stromberg, who will leave effective March 22, 2014, after 14 years of service.  The vote was unanimous.

Dear Davis Food Co-op Members and Shoppers,

After very careful consideration, the Board of Directors decided to exercise an option under the General Manager contract for separation without cause.  Therefore, the current General Manager, Eric Stromberg, will be leaving the Co-op.  Eric’s last day will be Saturday, March 22,2014. The Board would like to thank Eric for his 14 years of service and contributions to our Co-op community, and we wish him the best in his future endeavors.

Beth Tausczik will step into the role of interim General Manager while we conduct a search for a new permanent General Manager. The Board is confident in Beth’s ability to lead the Davis Food Co-op during this transition and is confident in all our staffs ability to maintain great customer service and efficient operations.

The Board followed a very deliberate process and thoroughly considered all information available to us before making a decision. We feel our decision was made in the best interest of you, the Co-op members we represenL However, for legal reasons, we cannot discuss personnel matters publicly.

We would like to thank those of you who attended our board meeting on Monday, February 24 to voice your opinions. lf you have additional feedback, e-mail addresses for all Board members are available on the Co-op website and on the bulletin board at the back of the store. The minutes from the January board meeting, and the February special meeting at which the separation decision was made, were approved on Monday, February 24, and are posted both on the Co-op website and in the store.

The Board has now formed a task force to conduct a national search for a new General Manager. This task force win be led by Board President Stacie Frerichs. The search will be a topic of discussion at upcoming Board meetings. Please look for announcements for those meetings on the bulletin board in the back of the store and on the Co-op website. The next meeting of the Board of Directors will be Monday, April 7, at 7 PM in the Co-op Teaching Kitchen. All members are welcome to attend.

We look forward to working together with you to continue to build a better Co-op and to maintain the Co-op’s role as a cornerstone of the Davis community.

In Co-operation,

Stacie Frerichs, Board President and the entire Davis Food Co-op Board of Directors

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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33 thoughts on “Letter to Co-Op Members “Explains” Firing”

  1. SouthofDavis

    David wrote:

    > Letter to Co-Op Members Explains Firing

    I would have wrote:

    Co-Op board writes a 400 word letter members that says nothing we don’t already know and fails to give any explanation for the firing”…

    P.S. Eric did not ask me for any advice, but I would have told him (or anyone else that finds out the entire board wants you gone) to 1. Try and get them to let you stay until you find a new gig, or 2. If they won’t give you ant time come out and tell everyone you want to take some time off to “spend more time with your family”.

    P.P.S. Below is a link to my favorite reason ever for leaving a company:
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/executive-quits-fast-track-to-spend-more-time-with,394/

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “I would have wrote:

      Co-Op board writes a 400 word letter members that says nothing we don’t already know and fails to give any explanation for the firing”…”

      Mine was more succinct, although I could have put quotes around “explains”

  2. rogerbockrath

    I have some pretty major issues with lack of response to members at the Co-Op, that go back several years. I’m not a big fan of the way the Co-Op is currently run. But if what we have read regarding Stromburg’s positive job evaluations is correct the Co-Op is most likely looking at a wrongful termination suit.

  3. Jim Frame

    the Co-Op is most likely looking at a wrongful termination suit.

    As an at-will employee, I think Eric would have to prove violation of a law (e.g. discrimination against a protected class) in order to prevail in a wrongful termination charge.

    1. Frankly

      Agree. He might be able to pursue it based on age discrimination. But typically in these cases there is a separation agreement that includes some consideration for signing a document that includes an agreement to hold the employer harmless. If the employee breaks the clause and files a wrongful termination claim against the employer, the employer can file a civil suit to demand return of that consideration.

      I suspect that there is something else going on… maybe some interactions or relationship with an employee that were problematic. Hostile work environment and sexual harassment claims are a current bonanza for the dysfunctional employee with passive aggressive tendencies… and the attorneys that bottom-feed on the conflicts. When you add the potential that board members can be held personally liable for complaints that they fail to act on… it can lead to extreme responses.

      IMO, I think we need to explore our growing penchant to identify victim classes and to empower the chronically weak, unhappy and passive aggressive with so many tools of retribution. I’ve see what just one or two of these types of personalities can do to a work culture, and it is very problematic.

      I’m guessing here, but given this letter, I would not be surprised if Eric got tangled up in something like this.

  4. Davisite2

    The letter mentions nothing about a “new direction”. Personnel matters are confidential and this is clearly stated as the reason for his termination. If, in fact, the true reason was that the Board decision to take the Coop in a new direction for which they felt Stromberg would not be a good fit and now are falsely stating that it was a personnel issue, then we must assume that the entire Board is conspiring to deceive the membership. For myself, I accept the Board’s explanation that it was ONLY a personnel matter and that the Board would not take the Coop in a “new direction” without the membership being able to weigh in. Personnel matters are often private and personal matters which are correctly confidential unless some potential actionable crime has been committed.

    1. Angry Tomato

      Supposedly the Board is taking a retreat next month; that’s why there’s no new meeting until April.

      Apparently, it’s appropriate to take a retreat right after causing a managerial trainwreck like this.

  5. Rich Rifkin

    That letter says nothing, of course. But no explanation is owed me.

    I can understand why members of the Co-op and friends of Mr. Stromberg care about this situation. However, I am not sure why anyone else in Davis should care about this. The Co-op is a private business and, as long as it does not break the law, it has the right to decide its own personnel matters. I would imagine if Safeway or Nugget or Trader Joe’s fired its general manager, no one outside those companies would even hear about the decision.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I’m not sure what your point is: “I am not sure why anyone else in Davis should care about this.”

      There are a lot of members who read this site and the articles on the Co-Op this week have been the most read articles on the Vanguard.

      1. Rich Rifkin

        I’m not sure what your point is:

        My point is that this is not a public concern. It’s a private enterprise and a private matter that owes the general public no explanation.

        You may be right that members of the Co-op read the Vanguard. I don’t know how “many” that is. And I don’t dispute they have a stake in the Co-op’s decisions.

        I simply mention the distinction because this is nothing like the firing of a public employee (as in the volleyball case) or the attempt to remove one (as with Pinkerton before he opted to leave).

        1. Day Man

          Agreed that it is not at all the same as firing a public employee. But I am one such co-op member who reads the Vanguard, and as the co-op isn’t great about communication, the Davis Vanguard has become my main source of info for this organization of which I am a member. I’m not saying the DV is the best or most appropriate forum in an ideal world, but it serves the purpose given the lack of a member-specific forum. Thanks David for continuing to cover it.

  6. donna lemongello

    Noting a somewhat stupid word used in the letter, they are looking for a “permanent” manager. Good luck with that, of course they meant “long term”.

  7. Alan Miller

    So it isn’t about a new direction? I somewhat accept this letter, as assuming there is good reason and assuming there is legal reason to have to not say why, then at least there are no lies, if no content. However, it’d be good if the board said, “sorry about the new direction thing, there really isn’t one”. That to me is the issue. I like my COOP to be open and friendly, not acting like a government agency or giant corporation with Orwellian buzzwords. The COOP is our local neighbor. It’d like it to refreshingly different from most of the orgs I deal with.

  8. Daviscpa

    (Sing to the tune of Gilligans Island)

    Just sit right back and I’ll tell you all
    a tale about the COOP board
    who fired the GM and picked a new direction
    in 2 hours or less, in 2 hours or less

    They met in closed session
    and decided the fate
    of a man and his family
    whithout regard to all his done
    in this economy, in this economy

    when members all raised up their hands
    and asked questions on the floor
    the board sat numb, apon their…seats
    and would not say no more, and would not say no more

    they promised they would answer
    each and every question asked
    but in their letter to us all
    their lips were tightly clasped, their lips were tightly clasped

    so ask you all to ask yourselves
    who should really be at task
    a man who gave the COOP his all
    or these flasshes in a pan

  9. eagle eye

    There’s the option of a recall of the board if members feel strongly about this situation.

    The coop is somewhat different than other stores: we have to buy membership shares to be part of the coop,
    and we pay higher prices at the coop for many items, apparently due to its limited purchasing power. So we feel more personally invested in what goes on, how things are run at the coop.

    The board’s deceit about going in a “new direction” is very troubling.

    It’s a little odd the board president is an “environmentalist” for Chevron Oil at the same time she supposedly cares so very much about healthy food and taking care of planet Earth.

  10. rogerbockrath

    I wish my Co-op the best. But they are going to have a hell of a time finding a decent permanent manager when the bylaws allow firing a well respected manager for what certainly seem capricious reasons.

  11. Rich Rifkin

    Oh, you mean the City Manager who, in the face of that “attempt” to oust him, decided to look for another job and has subsequently announced he is leaving Davis after just 2.5 years? Yeah, that sure was a “failed” effort on Lucas’s part.

    1. yellow

      Pinkerton was planning to look for another job even before he started working for the city of Davis. His philosophy about a city manager position is that you come in hot, make a lot of necessary decisions that might upset specific groups of people, and then move on once the momentum starts to fade. He’s probably already thinking about where he’ll go after Incline Village. I don’t think Lucas had any specific influence other than what Pinkerton already expected: some people won’t like you after a couple years.

  12. Davisite2

    The authorized statement that the Board has now offered is that the Board decided that” new leadership was needed” . My question: is the new leadership needed to take the Coop in a new direction?” New leadership” instead of” strategic new direction” sounds to me like an attempt at damage-control over the membership furor generated by the perhaps too-candid previous Board explanation. The Coop membership must be mobilized and actively engaged to challenge potential plans for the Coop to abandon its successful but admittedly niche market in Davis and blindly follow the business-model of large corporate supermarkets..

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